If you do a quick Google search starting with “My boss is…” you’ll find all kinds of evidence for the existence of incompetent leaders in business, politics, civic groups, and more. Dr. Tomas Charmorro-Premuzic has made it his mission to help organizations bring together tech and science to predict human performance. His latest book, “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders And How To Fix It” is a sorely needed wake-up call for our culture.

Tomas points out that much of what passes as thorough vetting of leadership candidates is not thorough in the areas that matter - the data-driven results of past leadership performance, relational skills, and the feedback of former team members. In this conversation Tomas shares how we’ve gotten into our current leadership mess, explains the ways we can turn the ship around, and gives advice to those who aspire to be leaders.

We need to become better at spotting true measures of competence

Tomas suggests that much of the reason we’ve wound up with incompetent leaders is that we’ve mistakenly assumed that the characteristics that make a person more likely to put themselves forward as a leadership candidate - assertiveness, confidence, even narcissism - are also the characteristics that will make them good leaders. The data shows this is not the case at all. Tomas says we need to become better at spotting true competence. Listen to this episode to hear how he suggests we do that.

If we want to upgrade our leaders we need to give more than lip service

Nobody would say they want a pompous, egotistical person to be their next leader. But when we go with the way leadership selection has always been done, that’s what we get. Tomas suggests three things we should pay attention to if we want our desires for good leaders to become reality.

  1. Focus on the right traits - it sounds obvious but it’s rarely done. Look for the qualities and attributes that make people better leaders. Humility, self-awareness, integrity. We focus too much on charisma, confidence, and self-promotion.
  2. Look for reliable data that can help us predict how leaders will perform in the future. You may have to dig to find it, but it’s worth it in the end.
  3. We should not lower the standards when searching for female leaders but raise the standards for male leaders.

Companies that hire better leaders use performance data well

Most of the companies that are getting leadership hiring and assessment right are well-established brands. Pepsico, CocaCola, Shell, Merck - and they all have one thing in common: they use data really well. They have a habit of measuring the performance of their leaders which gives them a data set from which they can establish benchmarks as to what the most effective leaders have in common. They also seek 360 feedback - especially how a leader’s subordinates or direct reports rate them - and then combine it with good scientifically defensible psychometric assessments. Doing this on a consistent basis pays off, with fewer incompetent leaders making the cut.

Advice for those working for incompetent leaders

If you find yourself stuck, working for a leader who is incompetent or difficult, Tomas says you need to learn the “soft skills” of getting inside the skin of your leader to discover what drives them and to learn how you can best negotiate with them.

He says first, don’t assume that changing departments or companies will make the situation better. Bad leadership is pervasive and the leader you inherit could be worse than the one you left.

Make yourself useful. Even bad leaders learn to appreciate those who make their role/job easier. Find ways to benefit your leader and you will have a better experience yourself.

Find ways in which your performance and achievements can be recognized by your bosses boss. You may need to get creative but it pays big if you can become an asset to those higher up the chain of leadership.

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:35] Tomas’ definition of leadership
  • [2:22] Why Tomas wrote his book about incompetent men being in leadership
  • [4:23] How do we fix the problem of incompetent men in leadership?
  • [6:30] Tools we can use to do better interviews and remove our standard biases
  • [9:35] Recommendations for those working under incompetent bosses
  • [12:27] Tomas’ top three pieces of advice for being an effective leader
  • [14:52] Who are the competent leaders that inspire Tomas?

Resources & People Mentioned

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